Mike Lapinski the artist behind Archaia's Feeding Ground, has an insightful and productive idea for independent creators and the fans who support them: Organize. On his blog today, the artist suggested a collaboration between indie artists, distributors and the comics direct market that would allow them to create something of a counter-event to DC's controversial, upcoming event series Before Watchmen. Responding to the volumes of text (much of it negative) written by comic book fans and professionals in the weeks since DC Comics announced Before Watchmen, Lapinski muses, "After everyone has made all of the clever, snarky, or insightfulcomments that can be made, what is to be done about it?" His answer, as it turns out, is quite compelling, and fairly comprehensive. It reads a bit like a marketing plan, except that the products he's looking to sell aren't all found in the same places or distributed by the same people. Lapinski writes, "One solution is to join all of our self-marketing efforts under one banner for the month or the Summer of Before Watchmen. There are plenty of innovative and industrious retailers that already plan displays and initiatives to answer trends. As DC tried around the time of the Watchmen movie release, the goal would be to help shine a light on work, here specifically creator-owned, that is worthy of renewed attention. Very few people will buy books based on a moral high ground alone but there's plenty of entertainment worthy of their time and money." The latter, of course, refers to the dozens of calls around the comics Internet to "vote with your money" by boycotting Before Watchmen and/or DC. While some have found that a tempting option, many others (such as Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter, linked above in Lapinski's first quote) have pointed out that targeting the publisher often results only in production staffers and editors being fired, and perhaps fewer risky titles being published; it's more likely to be bad for artists and fans, than to actually lose any money for the company that's ostensibly being targeted in the long run.
Lapinski cites examples that range from truly independent creators all the way up to things like DC's Vertigo and Marvel's Icon imprints, the creator-owned but corporate-distributed comics that tend to dominate the bookstore market even if they don't necessarily perform at comic stores (It's worth noting that his examples of Alan Moore's ABC work were largely done as work-for-hire and, other than League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, are not creator-owned). In examining books like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's Criminal, he discusses his shock and dismay at discovering that even those best-selling and critically-acclaimed works became a profitable venture only recently. Among the ideas suggested by Lapinski for an industry response to the Before Watchmen controversy, he suggests that retailers should hand-sell Moore's non-Watchmen work to fans interested in checking out Watchmen and its prequels, as well as works similar to Watchmen, such as Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. The list of additional suggestions he provides on his blog is pretty respectable, but not at all comprehensive, and seems begging for someone to pick up and run with, creating a kind of required reading list for this endeavor if it takes off. Lapinski also suggests that retailers and creators can work together on crafting an "If you like this, try that" system of recommendations, possibly complete with in-store signage. Speaking as a former video store manager, it's a system that often helped to move our back-catalog of great films which had passed their prime as high-rental items. "If you liked The Dark Knight, check out Sin City" is the kind of recommendation that could apply to both. "Readers compelled into reading a second issue of X-MEN every month may also have the capacity to fall for Morning Glories," suggests Lapinski. "My own book, Feeding Ground, treads similar territory to the old gods body horror that DC has found an audience for in Animal Man and Swamp Thing." Besides creator signings in support of such a project, Lapinski recommends that creators could reach out to local libraries and the mainstream media to bring independent comics and the Before Watchmen controversy to a wider audience. After all, there's clearly an interest in the industry and in Before Watchmen on the part of the press, who covered both DC's announcement and their New 52 launch last year with enthusiasm. The entry discusses a number of issues critical to the comics industry and really should be read in its entirety, but the main event--Lapinski's suggestion that the creative community ought to put up or shut up when it comes to supporting creator-owned books, is a notable one. The controversy over creator ownership has been simmering for a while, but seems to be boiling over with a number of recent events getting fans and creators to line up and take sides. Whether it's Before Watchmen, the Gary Friedrich trial or the lawsuit recently filed against Robert Kirkman by his Walking Dead co-creator Tony Moore, issues over ownership and intellectual property rights seem to have stolen the imagination of the comics community and Before Watchmen is a lightning rod for a lot of it. Trying to attach themselves to that certainly seems like a sound move from a marketing strategy on the part of creators who many fans and creators view as on the "right side" of the issue. Certainly the content and economy of independent filmmaking improved dramatically after low-budget darlings like Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater created big hits with a little bit of nothing and proved to the larger studios that it was a sustainable business model. Within a few years, moviegoers were getting things like Being John Malkovich, Lost in Translation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as all the deep-pockets studios saw the financial upside of that kind of work and rushed to duplicate it, usually providing gainful employment to those who started the trend. Who's to say it's not plausible to replicate that model in the comics industry?